This report is accompanied by a Photo Gallery for September 2011 Yoga Retreat. Any picture that you would like posted for this set, please kindly email firstname.lastname@example.org
Firstly, apologies for the extremely delayed reporting of this Retreat. Sometimes I yearn for the romantic/idyllic life many of us ‘perceive’ most of the Balinese peasant farmers have. In tune with nature, free of worries associated with modern living such as record keeping or tax lodgements, Armageddon economic forecasts, diving exchange rates or share prices, technology addiction and consequential upsets it causes when it fails us (and having to spend many hours with the provider’s help desk with their series of ‘tests’ all designed to discourage you from persevering to exit the contract), not to mention our futile attempts at managing – or insuring – to give us the illusion of certainty in a universe where actually nothing is certain (except the irrefutable things, such as death or – as some wags add – taxes), just to mention a few..
Yup, yearning just for one escapist moment where one can just indulge on things one likes – and if granted then this report would have been posted on time! (of course not, perhaps the mysterious hand of Gandhian non-indulgent karma at work?)
One day this Retreat report will be posted as it happens, perhaps nightly, when I get there without also having to attend some ashram or family issues that seem to await me?
Part of the reason in the delay was the mental block of having to go through the tedious steps of batch resizing then uploading all those pictures as companion to the report. The not so tedious but just as strong obstacle was the ‘feared’ task of selecting what to post and share knowing that some people are a bit reticent to have their photo taken, let alone shared! So I tried to be as mindful to these concerns but should any still slipped through my ‘mindful’ test, then please write me of the offending photos and they will be taken off line.
This retreat was also unusual and a first in the sense that my younger son Jackson, after some hasty organisation and soul searching amongst the family, was ‘chilling’ and volunteering at the Ashram since three weeks prior. There were some concerns and worries but Pam and I as parents are very pleased to say that we are extremely happy with his progress and involvement with the Ashram (He is still there but will be back in Melbourne just before Xmas and for those interested in a young teenager’s journey, he’s been writing and sharing his thoughts and experiences in his blog www.tricebali.wordpress.com so check it out, it’s quite insighhtful). So at the time there were some concerns over our interaction at the retreat, mindful of the often confrontational father and son ‘dialogues’ back in Melbourne. But my fear was totally unfounded as when I met up with him at the Ashram three weeks after he left Melbourne, the transformation I saw was nothing short of earth shattering – and gratifying of course! He interacted so well with the members and was so much part of the Ashram (and apparently has progressed even more according to the latest reports from various members, and hopefully I had changed for the better as well to be more accepting of his choices, ultimately it’s his life, whilst still sharing my thoughts). We talked and had real discussions for the first time in a long time – yes we even played guitars and sang off key together, how good was that? In the attended most of the yoga sessions (being a young thing with flexible bones, he was showing up the old man even as a virtual yoga first timer – admittedly not a terribly hard thing to do) and participated in our activities. Yes, we are extremely grateful for the ‘Ashram factor’ with all the members, good friends and guests of the Ashram such as the calming and wise presence of Pak Terry from NZ after I myself left, all have helped him transform, all for the better! I am also especially happy now that my ‘passion’ for the Ashram has been spreading to other members of my family. Yes, as some of our friends have commented that we are very fortunate indeed to have the Ashram connection or option for Jackson, and they were right, or perhaps it was his late ‘Ninik’ or grandmother’s way of calling him to pay his dues there – and to discover himself in the process.
The above notwithstanding we also knew that we were facing some other challenges. We had a couple of late minute cancellations, which was ok, but then Kate (of the good friends Kate and Lauren from Brisbane) turned up at the Ashram with the good news that she found out just before she left Brisbane that she was expecting! Kate is a very fit lady with many hours at the gym and very experienced at yoga which augurs well and Yvonne was keeping an eye on her and asking her to back off if doubtful and offered alternative poses. Kate certainly was more than keeping up with us through the sessions but in latter days was beginning to worry with a caution from Kawi who suggested no yoga altogether during pregnancy or early pregnancy. I do remember that early pregnancy is the more critical phase and people were advised even not to fly during the early months. So there was that real concern especially for a first timer. Jen from Perth had been there a few days prior to the start, Rachel from Melbourne arrived as scheduled and Louise from UK, she was also in the previous retreat, who was held back in Ubud with a bad flu rocked up a couple of days late.
The program started quite well with all of us having varying degree of competency in yoga. Rachel used to go to Yvonne’s class but was a little rusty and Jen has done some yoga teaching course but also a little rusty but both got into the asana and vinyasa without any sign of rustiness. Kate was as expected – fit and competent despite wariness over her early pregnancy. Lauren who is a personal trainer showed us just that – very fit and pushing the boundaries that I could only marvel at! Jackson was picking things up seemingly effortlessly – rat-bag – that made yours truly despair even with almost a year of regular yoga under his belt.. Louise joined us a couple of days late and still nursing the after effect of a very bad cold it seemed, but previous experience and retreat put her in good stead.
The routine quickly developed. 7 am – 8.30 am warm up then Surya Namaskara, followed by Yoga Nidra at the quiet meditation room at the upstairs clinic, away from the prying eyes and commotion of kinder children playing or being dropped off. 8.30 am Breakfast mainly of pancake or different type of local crumpets or boiled yam or cassava(they make tapioca from it) with an assortment of fresh fruits. As I’ve written before the trick was to apply a kind of Gandhian restraint to not overeat else one can be sluggish for the 10 am Asana class. That class invariably goes to 12.30 pm as some if not all of us mill around to quiz Yvonne about some poses or specific areas of interest, not limited to asana, when the wooden bell ‘kulkul’ is gonged to signify lunch. With a relatively long break to the light-ish 3 pm vinyasa session or 4.30 pm on House Yoga days with Kawi, we could all indulge in a little more ‘pig-out’ of the sumptuous lunches. Dinner at 6.30 pm with another sumptuous meals is followed by chanting or yoga philosophy sessions or to join the members night puja at 7.30 pm that lasts about half an hour.
In between participants have ample time to help or observe in the kitchen to learn some of the secret recipes, though some hard to replicate back in the west for lack of tropical local ingredients (young cassava leaves, or specific young ferns from the forest of Tenganan etc). Or book a session to improve well being during the acupuncture days (alternates with house yoga as, if you hadn’t noticed, Uki the acupuncturist and Kawi the yoga teacher are married to each other and have to care for their young children between them). Or simply book a masseuse, never experienced it myself but was told that she is quite good, with the very pair of hands that used to treat the massage addict herself, Ibu Gedong. Of course also plenty of opportunity to look around Candidasa, or frequent some coffee shops.
Just like previous retreats, I was finding it hard to ‘extricate’ the participants away from the Ashram for a Tour or a prayer visit to a temple. They seem to always interfere with a cooking lesson/helping at the kitchen, massage or acupuncture appointments or some other activities, or just a desire to enjoy the tranquil of the Ashram. I can empathise esp with the last point, something that is often denied of me as there is always a task awaits me, or someone waiting for my time for a chat. No, not complaining as it reminds me of a story of a long time friend of the Ashram and a regular annual visitor mostly of a couple months duration, a noted Dutch composer (who, as often the case, I haven’t met as we often crossed paths), who was said to have to go elsewhere to do his composing as he always gets too involved with the Ashram activities and life.
I pushed the trekking strongly as school holidays dictated the time, and we were nowhere even near the new moon. While a temple visit was also planned it was ultimately cancelled as without the moon, perhaps it wouldn’t be as auspicious or majestic. Hence the push for trekking at least.
The trekking was good, if it was taking more out of the ‘crew’ than I thought it would. But it was worth it as we started with a crossing on bamboo bridge, then meandered along the track on the edge of a village plantation with terraced rice fields on the other side. Apart from being the organiser and therefore slightly on edge (that comes with the territory!) to see early signs of fatigue, hunger or disinterest and to push things along as needed to be back in time at the Ashram for lunch, I always enjoy these trekking as it does remind me of my childhood days spent at a primary school in the mountainous area of central Bali for a year where I often walked alone to meet a good, very loyal friend of mine who lived with his widowed mother and brother in a small farm, perhaps the family was squatting, deep in the forest.
Our guide Billy is one of the better one if not the best one for the area. He knows a lot about the place and also draws his explanation from his childhood experiences such as picking up odd fruits and nuts from the ground while explaining its use and medical benefits. Some of the climb then the descents were quite steep and I was a little concerned over Kate. She’s a skilled camper and mountaineer as part of her environmental scientist job but it was early pregnancy. But I need not be as she tackled the obstacles quite effortlessly (a female tennis player came to mind who was still competing during early pregnancy, was it Kim Clysters? so it must be okay). I assisted Yvonne who, despite her prowess and flexibility in yoga, appeared to be a little unsure with her footings in the descent in the gravelly footpath. She was quite touched by the chivalry and thanked me till I told her that it was merely protecting the investment! (well wouldn’t like to think of Plan B should it be required).
Approaching Tenganan from the rear is still rather special for me as one can see the military/ defence thinking that went into the planning when the village was constructed, as Pak Sadra explained to us in earlier visits. Also in the Bali’s tradition of ringing the borders with temples (now where did I read that, possibly in Jackson’s blog!) as we could see one of the first building we encountered was the village hall/meeting place for the non Tenganan temporary workers, so well outside the village, then temples with stone wall swhich would serve as a handy defence outposts.
We literally rushed through the village because of time, and the village really requires a visit on its own if one is really interested in its culture and esp for those interested in weaving and double-ikat – apparently Tenganan is one of only three places where they practised double-ikat weaving (from memory one in India and another one in Japan).
(Obligatory) Hiccups – but we rock on!
The Brisbane duo Kate and Lauren surprised us by deciding to leave a couple of days early. Kate was getting a bit worried about doing anything that may risk her pregnancy which is fair enough and been scaling down her intensity in any case and Lauren, being a very good friend that she is, was providing the great support. Unbeknown to us Lauren was also getting a bit homesick and missing her daughter badly whom she had never parted before. Apparently seeing those kindergarten girls every morning made her pine for her daughter more. I think there was also an element of a very beautiful and caring friendship between the two which was really touching, and with each somehow reduced in their capacity to participate fully, it made sense for them to leave early. Apart from the retreat they have also made very good connections with the members, the people in the kitchen and spent a couple of stints there I think observing the Bali/Ashram way of cooking. Kate has also very generously offered her expertise in the Ashram’s future eco waste management to help us manage it properly, something that the Ashram will definitely take up. She was also talking about coming back to the Ashram with bub and hubby Leigh one day and of course the Ashram will be delighted to host them. Lauren also spoke passionately about her experience at the Ashram and many of its values that she shared, so hopefully we’ll stay in touch Lauren. We certainly missed the pair, their lively presence and their insight from gym/ bikram/ fitness perspectives that they shared readily with us. But as we sadly bid them farewell – as they say in the classics – one has to play with the cards one is dealt with and get on with business.
Though reduced in numbers, we pressed on with the program and from what I could gather, Jen and Rachel especially gained immensely from Yvonne’s final few days.
Also it’s worth noting that Jen who continued as a volunteer at the Ashram to make her total stay at the Ashram for the full month, also continued her daily morning practice and gathered a number of guests, Anna from Holland and Tracy from Canada that I know of, who joined in and were all very impressed with her yoga (Tracy went on to write that fantastic ode to the Ashram – I must ask young Jackson to write a rap tune to it, or may be not? – which alludes to Jen’s yoga). So the beauty of the Ashram with its snowball and networking effects. Skills transfer from the retreat resulting in other guests benefiting from the yoga and Jen during her extended stay there has also picked up some guitar playing skills and, according to her last email to me, has the full intention of continuing her guitar journey (not to mention part of her volunteering duty at the Ashram, right down her alley of auditing the library books which she enjoyed immensely, during which time she randomly came across Bede Griffith’s book ‘The Golden String’ which, just reading from the precis on the back cover, she thought would suit Jackson. Serendipity must be at work here because of all the books in the library that book bears the name Halina Nowicka, 1984, a friend of Ibu and us, who must have given it to Ibu when she was in Melbourne for our wedding then. I haven’t read the book but will borrow or get a copy because it made such an impression on Jackson. So all these serendipities and the common element is the Ashram. Perhaps not accidental as the vibrations of the place and its activities are conducive to all these good ‘coincidences’ if one approaches it with an open mind? Jen, you may like to write a piece about your experience for the blog? Think about it!)
The Ashram – and now the Retreat’s – special way of celebrating the end of a period of stay, normally of a group, at the Ashram, or for special occasions like birthdays. It is a tradition started by Ibu to farewell her guests. A ‘pesta’ (or feast or fiesta) with a selection of yummy dishes along with yellow rice that the Balinese serve for ceremonies. That night was no exception.
The Bale Yoga was fully decorated (actually for the Gandhi Jayanthi or Birthday the following day October 2) and the spread was just as magnificent. My only regret was that my plan to duck out to Amlapura to get some special cakes or some special dishes primarily for the members was thwarted as I got held up by yet another ‘unavoidable’ tasks. Life is a little like that for me at the Ashram but, thankfully, that did not dampen the mood for the night.
The meal was, as usual, sumptuous and the good bit was actually sharing the same food with the members. We made a point of letting the Ashram members get theirs first but there was more than enough food for everyone to have generous helpings.
Kawi and the members opened the proceeding with their customary beautiful sanskrit song-prayer (I know the tune and hope that Kawi when he reads this will email me its name, and if not I will make a point of taking notes for the next retreat). Followed by some traditional Balinese dance performances by the girls (Nikkie and Luh Ani) and the boys (Sutya and Dharma).
To me the highlight was always the ‘genjek’, a traditional eastern Bali ‘capella’ (thanks Kawi for providing the term) performed by the boys. It started by a rather subdued Savage Garden’s style gentle group singing of wise words of advice to a young man about to go to (high) school about the virtue of study and hard work, and about grabbing the opportunity and not to waste one’s life and falling into the temptations of gambling and drinking, the words are actually quite touching and moving (and sad), before it suddenly broke into a more dynamic phase painting those very dangers. Best to stop at that lest we spoil it too much for future participants as the element of surprise was what really impressed the first time I saw it.
Then of course us the visitors had to do our bits in singing (or other performance, in June there was a poetry reading written at the Ashram which I must get a copy of) as well and Jackson and I played some of the songs we had practised together – and everyone was polite enough not to leave the venue (as Pam would whenever I ‘sing’). I was just thrilled to play together with him and the best part was playing Cat Steven’s ‘Father and Son’- well, a version of but just enough clues for people to recognise the song from the garbled noises! Been a long journey but it has been worth it.
Yvonne played her own composition with the guitar (next time I will take notes of proceedings) which went very well, and Jen played a tune with Jackson. We all had a go, I think Rachel as well with Jackson’s backing and we all had a good time which is the most important thing.
Epilogue – Gandhi Jayanthi and Ibu’s 90th Birthday
The day after the end of the Retreat we celebrated Gandhi’s Birthday. This year for simplicity and minimal organisation we didn’t have the seminars but as usual the kindergarten was solid in the celebration and attended by Ibu Mas, the Chair of the Ashram. A number of dances by the girls then the boys and the girls especially all came in their own resplendent traditional outfit – make up and all! But it was all in good spirit and prizes were given by the Ashram based on presentation and dances for the day.
The following day was the semi-private affair of quiet celebration of Ibu’s 90th Birthday amongst the members, guests and a handful of family members – the sons being Benky the numero uno, yours truly and a grandson Jackson who also did the honour of blowing out the candles and cutting the cakes. As a treat and to make up for the missed cake during the Retreat’s Farewell we bought some ice cream from the shop across the road, which was enjoyed by the young members. Otherwise it was a quiet dinner and of course some group singing of Ibu’s favourite songs! The Ashram has come a long way indeed and the challenges were even bigger in the 9 years since Ibu, its captain and navigator, passed away. But looking at the faces of the young members, and a grandson who is now fully committed to the values
and mission of the Ashram, we can be quietly confident that we will navigate through the many challenges that life will throw at the Ashram. Just like we do on individual level. And hopefully more retreats and other activities to promote the Ashram and also provide the members with the much needed interaction with the outside world.
Rudi Oka, December 9, 2011 (well at least this report was written this side of Christmas – so very early Xmas Good Wishes to all our Ashram friends. Hope Santa brings more Retreats and Happy Visits to the Ashram, and Peace and Wellness to us all. Om Shantih Shantih Shantih Om)
PS I urge you to write your comment or feedback as it would help keep me from thinking of going insane talking to myself! (no don’t write if on the affirmative). Writing this blog, however, has been good for me. Just a matter of finding, or should I say making, the time for it. Enjoy!